“My father thinks I’m dead?!“
Seteth’s revelation hit Monica’s heart with the force of a volley of arrows. For all the time she had gone missing and the crippling darkness she found herself in, she may as well have been dead.
“Yes, I am afraid so, Monica,” said Seteth.
Monica could barely think or see straight as she spoke. “But can’t I–can’t you or Lady Rhea convince him that I’m alive?”
“We will do the best we can. Now is not the time for irrational decision-making. Please wait there for a little while longer and someone will check on you. Flayn, come with me.”
“Yes, Brother,” said Flayn. She followed him for a few steps, pausing when she got to the door of the infirmary and waving to Monica.
Several minutes after Seteth and Flayn left to speak with Lady Rhea, another assistant came in to run a battery of physical and mental tests on Monica. She recoiled when the assistant tried to test her for poisons and other bloodborne diseases. It made her think back to those days underground when her tormentors would prod, poke, and pick at her flesh, never telling her exactly what they were doing, or why they specifically needed her as a test subject. Monica also worried about what they might have done to Flayn in her time in captivity. When Flayn smiled at her when she first awakened after their rescue, Monica sensed a bit of emptiness to it…like a part of Flayn had been stolen. She thought they might have sought out Flayn for her rare healing abilities. Monica didn’t have any of that. She was just a normal rich girl who was good with weapons and world history. Why was she chosen?
The assistant collected his findings and left Monica alone in the infirmary to think about what to do next.
I need to let my father know I’m okay. He’s probably been crying himself to sleep for days now. Weeks, even! If only I could write a letter to him…but would it even reach him without getting stolen?
Monica threw her hands in the air and flopped back onto the bed. Sitting around and waiting for answers was getting her nowhere. She wanted to get up and out and talk to someone, even if Seteth told her to wait. Most of all, she wanted to see Flayn again.
After shaking out some of the cobwebs from her head, Monica got up and began walking out of the infirmary. She didn’t consider herself good at sneaking around, but her shoes didn’t make a lot of noise when she walked. She peered around the corner leading to the audience chamber, hoping not to see Seteth along the way. What she saw around that corner was far more imposing…
It was Lady Rhea, the archbishop herself.
Dressed in an extravagant white robe and an equally opulent headpiece, Rhea gave off the appearance of an angel descended from the heavens. Monica thought she looked like she could be Flayn’s mother.
Rhea smiled and chatted with some of the students and monks, who all bowed as she walked past them. Monica was intimidated by how much power and respect the archbishop commanded. Would she even be able to approach someone that influential without stumbling over herself the way she did with Seteth? She would soon find out when Rhea caught her trying to walk back to the infirmary.
“May I help you?”
Monica, seeing the other monks bowing in Lady Rhea’s presence, did the same. “Yes, Lady Rhea,” she said, trying to stir up as much confidence as humanly possible. “My name is Monica, and–“
“Monica? As in Monica von Ochs?” asked the archbishop. Even her voice was motherly and comforting.
“Yes, that’s right! Did Seteth tell you about me?”
“He did. He told me that you and Flayn survived a harrowing ordeal in that cavern. Your recovery also seems to be progressing rather quickly.”
“So why can’t I go back to join my old class?”
“The school year is already halfway over. It will take a bit of time to do the work necessary to bring you back into the fold.”
Rhea and Monica stopped to look out of the momentary gap in the front door. There was no light shining through the many stained glass windows of the monastery’s upper level, so Monica assumed it was nighttime. Oh, Goddess! How long was I out?
“However, we will need to wait until the morning to deal with that,” Rhea continued. “For the moment, you should get some rest. Be calm and sleep well tonight, my child.”
“Thank you, Lady Rhea,” said Monica. “I will try.”
Monica went back to lay down on her cold, hard infirmary bed. She had been “resting” all day, but this was the first chance she had to try to get some genuine sleep. She yawned and closed her eyes, adjusting herself and her pillow to try to find the best sleeping position.
As she drifted off to sleep, she began to make plans. Tomorrow would be her first full day since returning to Garreg Mach, and she was certain she would be forced to spend it under the watchful eyes of Rhea and Seteth. Monica knew they were only looking out for her safety, but she didn’t like the idea of being confined to one area of the monastery. She wanted to see all of it. She wanted to see how much, if anything, had changed in her absence.
Her sleep was interrupted by the infirmary door opening behind her.
“Monica? Monica!” a voice whispered.
Monica turned around to see Flayn, carrying a sleeping bag in her hands. She was hard to see in the darkened room, but there was just enough light from the candles outside that Monica recognized her braided hair.
“Flayn? What are you doing here?” asked Monica.
“I could not bear the thought of leaving you to sleep alone tonight,” said Flayn, “so I have come here to accompany you.”
“Thanks, Flayn. Why the sleeping bag, though? Don’t you have a bed of your own you normally sleep in?”
“Yes, but those are quite difficult to move around the monastery unnoticed.”
That made sense to Monica, even if it was Flayn’s attempt at a joke.
“Um…I was ready to go off to sleep,” said Monica, “but I’d like to talk for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”
Flayn shut the door behind her and brought her sleeping bag to the foot of Monica’s bed. “Of course, my friend. What is it that troubles you?”
Monica flipped around and rested her feet on her pillow so she could see Flayn’s face more closely. She was so happy to be able to move around freely again, and she owed it all to the girl in green. “So, um…your brother…he told me that my father thinks I’m dead.”
“That cannot be,” said Flayn. “You are talking with me right now.”
“I know that,” said Monica. “For a little while, it felt like I actually had died. But I’m wondering…if I’m not ‘legally alive’, but I’m still ‘technically alive’, does that make me some kind of…ghost?”
“A ghost?! Monica, you should not make light of such things!”
Monica could just barely see Flayn’s shocked expression in the low lighting. “Sorry…it was just a thought, that’s all. Seriously, though…I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you enough for all your help.”
“I appreciate your kind words,” said Flayn. “In truth, it is thanks to the efforts of the students and the Knights of Seiros that you and I are still here today.”
Monica couldn’t remember how long ago it had been since she was captured. The last thing she saw and heard down in that cavern was a pale-faced woman taunting her…calling her “weak” and “pathetic”…telling her that no one would care if she were to die. She didn’t want to believe that was the case. Monica thought she had friends back then, but nobody seemed to notice when she went missing.
Maybe that awful zombie woman was right. Maybe they weren’t really my friends anyway. That’s fine, though…I’ll just have to make some new friends…like Flayn. She’ll be there for me. We got out of that dungeon together, so getting through the rest of this school year together should be easy…I hope.
Monica made up her mind. She would have to meet some of these new students and knights.
“Hey, Flayn,” she whispered. “Want to take a tour of the campus with me tomorrow morning?”
“But my brother said–“
“I know what Seteth said. Besides…does he know you’re here right now?”
“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re safe and sound, I’m safe and sound, and if we need help, we’ll just ask one of the guards. Don’t think of it as ‘sneaking around’… We’ll just be ‘going out for some fresh air’.”
Monica also realized that she would have to leave the infirmary bed behind anyway. If someone else got sick and she was still using it, then where would they rest?
“If that is your wish,” said Flayn, “then I hope you will allow me to be your guide.”
“Excellent! I’ll be ready first thing in the morning,” said Monica. She wanted to figure out how Flayn used her “warming hands” trick, but for the moment, she was content with giving her new friend a soft hug before swinging back around to her original sleeping position. “Good night, Flayn.”
“Good night, Monica.”